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Maid for each other

22 Apr

We are clearly not. The maid and I. Our story has all the milestones of a love story gone awry, with all the cliche developments. The hunky dory beginning, the blossoming honeymoon period, the too-good-to-be-true first few years, the faith and dedication, and then bam! something snaps and the indifference sets in. And I have let things slide, giving into all the crap the universe wants to throw at me. I am now convincing myself that all the bad, ill-fated luck must be part of the bigger karmic plan. After all nothing about our relationship every warranted any effort or planning. Everything about it is random, unplanned and has a strong strain of things just falling into place. What can I say, it began much the same karmic-love sort of way. When someone comes and sweeps you off your feet, when you least expect it. Except, I wish now that I had tested her actual sweeping back then, rather than fallen for it in a moment of vulnerability!

She came into my life three days into moving to Goa. She showed up at my doorstep, like a Godsend, even before I could put the word out for a new maid. She came to me when I was weak, alone and just desperate. I knew nobody in this city, nobody came to visit me. So when the doorbell rang and I opened it to the doe-eyed apparition that she was, I took it as a sign.

I invited her in to my abode, unkempt and disorganised as it was. I was knee-deep in boxes the packers had dumped at my doorstep, refusing to place them in appropriate rooms even (door-to-door service, madam!). And she fluttered her eyelashes and gave me her coy, shy best performance. She seemed hassle-free and willing to do give me just the help I needed.

A happy, chirpy daily influence in my life. And she cleans too! I can’t ask for anything more. I told myself and hastily agreed to some baseless wages. But I didn’t think about it too much then. She wasn’t the best, most pinpointed cleaner I have ever had, but at least she was friendly and cheerful. I could talk to her and get her to do what I needed to, without a hissy fit, I told myself. Better sloppy, but willing-to-be-corrected, than snooty and refuses-to-be-told-anything.

And so it began. The going was good. I was blinded by morning that started off on a happy note, with lively chatter over a cup of tea as she would proceed to clean, wash, sweep, and over the months agree to chop veggies and go the extra mile once in a way too. I was swayed by her little gestures of offering to stay the night the first few times VC travelled on work, and bringing us homecooked biryani and kheer on Eid.

I felt my heart swell with fondness for her. Giving her time off was never a problem. In fact she only works for under an hour, 6 days a week. I deliberately give her Sundays off as a rest-day, because I always wonder how women like her find it in them to do such hard physical labour, 6-7 hours a day, 7 days a week. Additionally, she is prone to taking at least 2 days off every month. Something I allowed quite unquestioningly. I also helped employee her daughters with work, frequently give her and her family gifts, hand-me-down clothes, things for her kitchen, her home, and I even helped her son out with a car loan. It’s what I’d do for family, I thought. And that’s really how I have always felt about her. She busts energy cleaning my house for me, this was the least I could do for her. Also, I have grown up with the belief that building a relationship with house-help goes a long way. So it comes naturally to me and I have never been able to have an employer-employee relationship with her. And that is probably where the problem began, long ago. I was just too blinded to see it. Ours was a relationship devoid of the distance once usually needs to sometimes maintain.

So today, when she questions me when she sees a sink full of dishes more than she is usually used to seeing, and I find myself feeling apologetic, I have to remind myself not to be. It isn’t an every day affair, and I am paying her for her services.

When I suddenly look under the bed and find a fine collection of dust (approximately 6 months old), and I feel my blood boil, I have to tell myself that its okay to feel like she has taken me for granted and that I must firmly point it out.

When she slacks off, cuts corners and leaves cruddy marks on my dishes and I find myself hesitating to point it out, I have to remind myself that it is her job to clean up. And my job to tell her where she is going wrong.

All this hits home harder on days when she is off and I have to do the dishes and clean up myself, and I actually find the house more spotless than it has ever been. The irony.

I have always had a problem with confronting such issues. I cannot question people when it comes to doing their work. It was this was at office too. If I found someone slacking off, I’d find it easier to step in and do their work myself, than question why they haven’t done it to begin with. I’m not proud of this trait, and no matter how wrong I know it is, I cannot seem to find it in me to face the issue head-on.

VC is polite when he tells me I’m gullible, which is the closest most accurate way to describe it. I’m soft when I shouldn’t be. I seethe rather than vent. I not just a door-mat (but I’ve already told you that), I sometimes walk into situations and find myself sprawled out begging to be trampled on. I am now counting days till we move home, because I’d rather use that move as an excuse to sever ties, than fire her.

As things stand today I am in that horrible place of knowing we over-pay her. Which by itself hasn’t bothered me so much all these years. But it does now, because she serially squeezes in 1.5 hours of work into 50 minutes or so, constantly slacks off when I am not looking, and shows no signs of wanting to get better even when I resort to ticking her off. As a result I spend about an hour every morning pottering around and re-doing a lot of the work she has done. Only better. And I constantly question why I cannot just let her go entirely, since I am doing her work, and paying her for it.

From rosy beginnings, we’ve come to these seriously frustrating and infuriating times. Like the couples who hit it off like like a house on fire, so hot that you never imagine they could have issues. Until one day they find themselves in a bad dead-end marriage with no scope for improvement. And yet they continue, in the most damaging, maddening rut unable to get out, all because they failed to draw lines and keep distance when it was needed.

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17 Responses to “Maid for each other”

  1. vishalbheeroo April 23, 2013 at 12:51 am #

    This is the problem and when we are nice people often take us for granted. I used to do that in office and rather than confronting, I would step in. It’s a harsh world. Well observed, Haathi.

  2. Chintu April 23, 2013 at 1:29 am #

    A long time reader, just cumming out of the woodwork’s to say Hi!

    Have always loved your write-up and this piece is beautifully written like the rest.

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 7:23 am #

      Thanks :) for delurking too!

  3. chronicworrier April 23, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    The distance is definitely necessary. Although I still feel bad about my helper choosing to not sit on the sofa or the dining table (I told her she should, she refused). And so many people here think that just by giving them food and shelter they’re doing them a huge favour. Sorry, off on a tangent here.

    You should fire her. You’ll feel heaps better and less doormat-ty. But you already knew that. :-)

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      Funnily my maid is pretty much at home in my home. She doesnt sit on a chair, mostly because they seem to feel more awkward than we can imagine about doing that. Some weird subservience hard coded into their brain. But she does feel at home enough to chat, share a laugh, bunk and know she wont be questioned, show up late and know it wont be handled harshly — basically take me for granted :P

      I really DO need to fire her, but am unable to get myself to do it. It really sucks to be in this place.. Ugh!

  4. m4e4 April 23, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Loved the write-up Revathi!
    My mom has had similar and worse relationships with her maids so I have decided to go maid-less for as long as I can!!

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 9:04 am #

      The truth is while I like cleaning up and pottering about my house, I dont fancy spending entire days doing it all myself. So I am not the kind to be able to do it without help :(

  5. priya April 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    i feel your pain in every sense of it. i find it very tricky to deal with this, because in india, the relationship is never a black and white professional one, as employer and employee. there are so many other unspoken expectations, and because of the huge disparity in pretty much everything, it’s very hard not to feel bad for them, even when they slack off. i try to remind myself to separate my sympathy for their struggles with the fact that they are paid to do this. this topic takes up way too much of my brain space than it should, and then i get angry with myself! i’m a seether too – going around doing a second round of dusting or complaining to others instead of just telling her. the confrontation is too stressful for me. but i’ve gotten a little better – so there’s hope! i tried keeping a list so i would remember to tell her the things before she started and not just forget it after the anger of that moment.

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      Ditto ditto ditto! That is exactly how I feel. The inability to separate my sympathy from the simple fact that this is a job I am paying to get done. Also I get very easy washed over.. The anger mostly happens when I notice something, which is usually long after the maid has left, when I am redoing things, or reaching in corners she hasnt bothered to. And by the time she comes in the next day my anger has melted away and I am unable to just set things right..
      Here too it takes up way more brain space than I would like to give it. It is even more annoying because even though she wasnt ever really Super Maid, for about 2 years she was alright. In the last 10 months she has become a super slacker, and it coincided with the last massive pay hike.. SO Im not happy.

  6. aninsightfulnut April 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I just have to say, same pinch !!!!!!!!!

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      Oh really? Somehow there is security in numbers, but it doesnt make our situation any better does it?!
      :(

      • aninsightfulnut May 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

        ok, situation solved!! I now have a domestic goddess, she even makes the bed and cleans the fridge, all while I am at work. Snoop around the neighbourhood, there will be one lady that all the aunties and housewives hire, tempt her and and ensnare her with an aunty’s help. Said Aunty also has my keys. Happiness is entering a clean house after a long day.

        • hAAthi May 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

          You lucky thing. My slowly-turning-into-a-bigger-slob maid is on holiday, and the temp she has appointed in her place is even worse :(

  7. crunch April 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    You know what I’ve thought about this a lot since I’ve moved back here. I didn’t want to have a maid or any help since I’ve been used to doing it all myself the past decade. And the only things I could recall from my mom’s experiences growing up were so similar to yours. And it got me thinking. I think most of us get over a job after a period of time. And it’s exactly like the courting situation you detail above. We are excited to join a new company usually, there’s a learning period, bonding period, new experiences and then it starts to go downhill and we’re off looking for change and a new challenge. This break from our old job doesn’t always have to be nasty with a lot of bad blood around. It can be as simple as I’ve found something new and exciting. Maybe we need to start thinking about what this could look like for our maids and other people that stick around for a long time. Maybe they need something else to motivate them. I mean how motivating could it be to wake up each morning and show up to do dishes, despite all the pain and boredom day after day. I know it’s kind of not everyone’s cuppa tea but why don’t you try throwing her a challenge, something new, something different to invigorate your relationship. Maybe you could get her to start learning stitching or something else she might take up some interest in. That might come in handy for you as you start needing other services for yourself as well. Not sure if it will work .. but it’s what I’m doing. I’ve agreed to help at home only if she’s 20, abandoned school somewhere along the way, wants to learn and grow. So I managed to find one like that. I’m teaching her English, she takes care of my little girl half the day, teaching her to cook so she can take over on days when I have other things going on, and hoping she can eventually be like a receptionist of sorts for our company when little A goes to primary school or something. OK off my soap box sorry!

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      You know, you might be on to something here. I know my mother dealt with her househelp this way. Increased challenges, boosted confidence, rewarded in cash and kind..built the relationship on many more things than just give and take of money for services rendered. And at last count my moms cook/maid — someone they could leave the house with and travel for 6 weeks at a stretch — stayed with us for 15 years. But I also think that has a lot to do with the mindset and personality of the cook herself. SHe was with-it, energetic, a super clean woman her self. And the challenges gave her a sense of pride. I could possibly try it with mine, but the feeble attempts Iv made havent been met with much enthusiasm. My mais is a bit of a slacker at heart, so not much moves her to do anything.

  8. Smita April 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Heard and experience something so very similar!!! All Maids are very good on the 1st of their jobs and then keep impressing you, we get impressed start supporting them and they start taking us for granted.
    We change maids and the whole story begins again, step by step. We all are gullible or are they too smart?

    • hAAthi April 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

      Im not sure its a questions of “smartness”, because Id like to believe if her circumstances and smartness allowed it my maid would have taken herself to school and made a life outside of domestic chores for herself. So I definitely think it is me who is gullible. Also this is my first and only maid experience. Id like to think she stuck around (and continues to stick around rather obediently) because she is treated well. I hear horror stories about maids running off in a few days, or households going thru 3-4 maids in a matter of months and I tend to think that also happens when maids dont feel they are treated well enough. I think both are possible..

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